Develop a Set of Criteria to Evaluate a Website of a Holiday Booking Site
Need for a good methodology
A good research methodology is a general plan of how the researcher will go about answering the research questions considering the sources to collect data and the constraints that one might have (access to data, time, location and money, ethical issues etc). It should reflect the fact that the researcher has thought carefully about why a particular strategy has been employed.
A collection of methodologies were used to carry out this research. Both primary and secondary data was collected for this purpose. The secondary data comprised of data from literature reviewed from books, journals, Internet and the annual reports of the companies while the primary data took the form of information/results collected from questionnaires and surveys.
The first stage of the research comprised of collecting secondary data from the literature review. According to Sharp and Howard (1996), two major reasons exist for reviewing the literature. First, the preliminary search helps to generate and refine the research ideas. And secondly, a critical review is a part of the research process. Like most research projects, literature review was an early activity in this research. After the initial literature search, the researcher was able to redefine the parameters more precisely and undertake further searches, keeping in mind the research objective and goal. The literature review helped developing a good understanding and insight into the previous research done on this topic and the trends that have emerged. According to Gall et al. (1996), there are a number of other purposes of a literature review.
- To help one to refine further the research questions and objectives
- To highlight research possibilities that have been overlooked in research to date
- To discover explicit recommendations for further research
- To help one to simple avoid repeating work that has been done before
- To sample current opinions in newspapers, journals and magazines
- To discover and provide an insight into research approaches and strategies.
This stage of critical literature review was followed by surveys to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. There are different research strategies that one might employ. They are: experiment, survey; case study, grounded theory, ethnography, action research, cross sectional and longitudinal studies, exploratory, descriptive and explanatory studies. Out of all these, the researcher has chosen the Survey strategy for the research. It is a common and popular strategy in business and management research. Through this a large amount of data can be collected in an economical way.
Step by Step Methodology Undertaken
1. Secondary Data – The first stage of the research comprised of collecting secondary data from the literature review. The literature review provided many useful points to consider before commencing the dissertation. It highlighted what research had already been conducted and what new areas could be investigated.
2. Questionnaire– At the next stage of the research project questionnaires was distributed to 15 people of varying ages, sex, economic status and race.
3. Analysis – The qualitative and quantitative data was thoroughly analyzed using the approach explained in the next chapter.
Questionnaire is the most popular method of collecting data. It is less expensive and less time consuming than conducting interviews and very large samples can be covered. A set of questionnaire were prepared to collect primary data (interviews& survey questionnaire). The different distribution techniques as described by Hussey and Hussey (1997) were followed. The questionnaires were circulated to the employees, Human Resource Managers, students, job seekers etc through Post, Telephone, face-to-face, Group distribution and individual distribution. Hussey and Hussey (1997) identify some important factors to be considered while using questionnaire. These are – Sample size, Types of questions, Wordings, Design, including instruction, Wording of any accompanying letter, Method of distribution and return, Method of collecting and analyzing, Actions to be taken if questionnaire is not returned. All of these factors were considered while preparing the final set of questionnaire.
Designing and Administering the Questionnaire
The design of a questionnaire differs according to how it is going to be administered i.e. the amount of contact the researcher will have with the respondents. In this respect, the design of a questionnaire can be divided into categories:
1. Self-administered: These questionnaires are completed by the respondents without the intervention of the researcher. Such questionnaires are delivered to the respondents through email, Internet or by post and are returned accordingly.
2. Interviewed administered: These questionnaires are recorded by the interviewer on the basis of the respondents’ answers. For example : Telephone questionnaires in which telephonic interview is taken and structured interviews in which the researcher meets the respondent face to face and ask questions.
In this research, the choice of questionnaire was determined by a number of factors like the time available to complete the data collection, financial implications of data collection and entry, availability of interviewers and ease of automating data entry. Keeping all these factors in mind, self-administered questionnaire was chosen to be distributed to the sample through post, email, Internet and telephone.
The questionnaire (see appendix) was used to give a thorough understanding of what consumers used when booking a holiday online and what they felt was missing. It consisted of 9 questions each supplied with a number of possible answers. The questionnaire was designed in an ‘easy to use’ tick format so most consumers would be able to answer the questions quickly and be more willing to participate in the process.
Few important questions from the questionnaire are mentioned below. The detailed questionnaire is given at the end as Appendix I.
- Have you used the internet for holiday or travel booking before?
- Yes b. No
- Do you feel safe using your credit card on the internet?
- Yes b. No c. I do not use a credit card on the internet
- What holiday booking website(s) have you used in the past 0-6 months? (choose all that apply)
- Easy Jet
- Ryan air
- British Airways
- Did you find the information on the sites clear and concise?
- How do you choose which websites you go to?
- Word of mouth/referral
- Search engine and keywords
- Links from other sites
If for a particular research, the data is collected from every possible case or group member, it is termed as census. Sampling techniques provide a range of methods that enables one to reduce the amount of data to be collected by considering only data from a specific group rather than all possible cases. The full set of cases from which the sample is taken is called the population. Sampling provides a valid alternative to a census when it is impractical to survey the entire population or the time constraints prevent from surveying the entire population or if the budget constraints prevent from surveying the entire population. (In sampling, the term ‘population’ is not used in its normal sense, as the full set of cases may not be necessarily being people.)
Sampling saves a lot of time. Sometimes the researchers collect data from the entire population but analyse only a sample of the data to save time. For this research, sampling was done in order to get more detailed information form the sample selected. Once the data was collected more time could be spent in checking for any errors before analysing the data while this would not be possible if the data would have been collected from the entire population. According to Henry (1990) smaller number of cases means that more time could be spent designing and piloting the means of collecting these data.
The internet business can really only succeed if the public accepts new technologies. Despite the hype surrounding the dotcom boom (and bust), research conducted by ICM for Computer Weekly has found a relatively low level of understanding of the Internet in the UK, particularly among older members of the population, and people on lower incomes. Kate Turner, director at ICM research said, “While younger people are buying technology as fast as they can, the 55-plus group is the one to watch. They are catching up”. The highest proportions of online shoppers are among 25 to 34 year olds (Saran, 2002). Therefore, the sample was chosen such that it covers all the age groups particularly those between 25-35 years old.
The choice of sample size is determined by a number of factors like the confidence one need to have in the data, the margin of errors that one can tolerate and the size of the total population from which the sample is being drawn. Given all these influences, the final sample size selected for the purpose of this study comprised of 15 different people of varying ages, sex, economic status and race.
Rationales behind the questions
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Impact or effect on the set of criteria
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The aim of the questionnaire (see appendix) was to highlight any trends within the online industry and to identify some of the useful website evaluation criteria’s. The responses were used to indicate what appealed to consumers and what deterred them from booking a holiday online. Once all the responses had been received, the answers were collaborated together and analysed. A good response rate was obtained which helped to draw conclusions.
Data gathered from this methodology was used to draw specific conclusions. This type of data provides suppliers with key information to modify their offers or features to gain a competitive edge. Referring to the e-Book by Lynch and Horton (1997), the researcher identified 14 evaluation items to check when evaluating website content: first impression, speed, compatibility with all browsers, accessibility, absence of HTML errors, readily accessible to search engines, visibility, usability, trustworthiness, security, currency and authority, objectivity, accuracy, and coverage. Grandinetti (2000) proposed a simple evaluation standard. The information provided on a website was considered to be trustworthy if it explicitly described the author’s name, affiliation, source, ownership and date of posting on the website. Cravener (2000) indicated that the frequency of updates, accuracy and credentials should be evaluated in order to determine the quality of the website. The questionnaire results as well as the literature review helped in formulating a set of criteria to evaluate a website and those criteria’s were tested accordingly.
Expedia and British Airways proved to be the 2 most popular sites to use due to their reputation while thomson-holidays.co.uk scored poorly (50% agreeing to the fact that the site is not attractive and 60% believing that it is not that reputable). In line with most people having a few holidays a year, most people use the internet a few times a month to view travel websites. On either side a significant number use the internet for booking personal holidays though 80% of the participants were afraid of using the credit card online.
As expected most people use travel sites to book flights. This is their main purpose and hence where sites are going to gain most exposure and revenue. Most people use a particular site due to prices. However, with the other features also scoring highly, it indicates that most people still require the site to be of a decent standard. Most consumers will initially go to a site for price, but expect it to be a secure, easy to use and efficient site as well.
When suppliers are deciding what to focus on for the future better offers and real time confirmation seems to be what consumers want. Price of tickets and ease of use were the two most important issues identified by the participants while using a web site for holiday and activity booking while other useful links, website’s reputation and lots of photos on the website scored low. Search capability and download speed were again identified as factors which are a MUST for a holiday and activity booking web site.
The extras such as personalised features, feedback provision, good search engine, links to other company websites and minimal mouse travel and keystrokes scored quite lowly. A significant number of people wanted greater flexibility and more information when booking their travel. With such a large majority of people still believing that a travel agent is still needed and using credit card online is risky, travel sites have a long way to go to gain market share. They need to provide more than just better prices to attract and retain customers.
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Research carried out by Carlson Digital revealed that word-of mouth is the main reason why sites were visited for the first time, and very few of respondents believed online brands ‘knew what made them tick’(Brand strategy, 2002). Without the benefit of human contact, internet companies have to work harder at understanding customer needs, delivering against these and finding ways to engage with the customer. Research found that customer expectations are high, and they are completely unforgiving of organisations who fail to respond quickly (Brand strategy, 2002).
Technical factors such as site navigation, design and downloading speed can determine whether customers will revisit a site or not. To keep customers loyal, the sites must provide fresh content, relevant emails, competitions and offers. Bisignani, CEO of Opodo declares, ’The trend for booking travel online is set to explode’. On the other hand, Sally Johansson, e-commerce manager of Buzz, a low-cost airline says, “We will never be 100% booking online”. She believes the key to success on the internet is to keep things as simple and clear as possible and avoid adding features that add to the costs (Wheelwright, 2002). Many sites are reluctant to pull the plug on their call centres and some have even placed added emphasis on this facility. It seems that there are still too many people not being drawn to book online.
Convenience of accessibility to information is probably as equally crucial as price. The ability to gather information on destinations, hotels, tourist sites and culture enables any traveller to pinpoint their exact requirements and then build a trip ideally suited to them. The main advantage is that this can be done in the comfort of one’s own home. One doesn’t have to physically go and queue to see someone who may only open during working hours or only be able to show some limited offers. However, one does have search through various sites to get the most appropriate package. Most well established sites offer a help line which is ideal for customers who want to use the internet for gathering information and then use a personalised service to ensure they get the right deal. It also inhibits fear in travellers who may need to make changes later on.
Most web sites offer an abundance of options for travel. They can hold information about local and far destinations in equal depth and detail, whereas the travel agent will only have expertise in some areas and will be limited in options he can suggest. The best of both worlds, that more consumers are now doing, is using the internet to gather information and then telling the travel agent exactly what they want. This eliminates the fear of booking online and makes the customer more informed and demanding. Travel agents are also catching up with competitors by using their own websites to advertise their offers. Some have also started to focus on niche marketing, such as becoming cruise specialists, honeymoons or offering advice on complicated itineraries or where expertise for one particular country is needed and especially for people not comfortable with using a computer (Maxa, 2002).
Some factors consumers should consider when booking online are:
• Does the site operate in ‘real time’? This means the airline seat, hotel room etc presented are available the moment you’re viewing it. This prevents problems of being sold out when you come to the booking stage.
• Does it provide a free help line number that allows you to talk to a representative to iron out any queries?
• Are extra charges, such as trip cancellation insurance automatically added to your package or hidden amongst the terms and conditions?
• How often are the special offers updated?
• Does the web site levy a fee on the airline tickets it sells? Some sites are already charging consumers and more are expected to follow this trend (Morrison, 2002)
• Will the site be trading when you want to travel? Many travellers are unaware that if they book a flight or hotel and that company ceases trading, they are not protected by legislation or insurance schemes (Macefield, 2002).
When deciding to book online the consumer needs to realize how flexible their requirements are. The more consumers are willing to compromise on times, dates and holiday sites the more likely they are to finding a cheap deal. Consumers also need to be ready to book as soon as they see what they are looking for. Even in a slow economy most offers get booked very early on.
There are few noted limitations for this piece of research. First of all it cannot be ignored that research is dependent on the data collected using a questionnaire. The objective features of websites and not dealt in detail (e.g. background theme or hierarchy information) which makes it difficult to elaborate the suitable design factors equalled with the subjective measures. Secondly, this research is based on the survey research method which has some limitations of its own in the form sample selection bias. The sample of the survey is selected by the researcher and there is always a chance that the acquaintance of the researcher with the sample may alter the results as per the researcher’s way of thinking. The researcher tried to gather demographic information like age, gender etc but could not capture information like income levels etc. The participants were not ready to divulge such information. The validity of the results may be challenged in the absence of demographic information, because literature suggests the relative importance of evaluation criteria might vary with income and education level.
Lastly the study lacks a section in the questionnaire that could be used to measure the level of user satisfaction for each website. A recent study found that user satisfaction for e-commerce customers consists of multiple dimensions (McKinney et al. 2002). There was a possibility to add more inter-dependent variables in the research model. For example, trust has been identified as an important issue in web site design and e-commerce (Jarvenpaa, Tracinsky and Vitale 2000, McKnigh et al. 2002). It would have been significant if the level of trust the participants had in each website could be measured along with the reasons (Kim and Moon 1998).
Recommendations for future work
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Travel is seen as an ‘escape’ motivation – a wish to escape routines of family, home and work. It might be a ‘pull’ motive – a want to see things, places, and people and to engage in actions and behaviours (Ryan, 2002). Travel is ultimately thought of as entertainment (Miller, 2001). For these reasons booking travel should also be fun and hassle free. Consumers want to feel inspired, excited and motivated to book travel. Online sites have recognised the lacking of a one-to-one experience and have turned to using customer service help lines. This move, although against the promotion of booking entirely online, portrays the current competitive market. Online travel sites have needed to work a lot harder to stay competitive and profitable.
Having looked at the past and present situation, one can start to predict what the future will be for the online holiday booking industry. A recent report from industry analysts Jupiter MMXI (Johnson, 2002) noted considerable growth in Europe’s online travel market – and predictions suggest it could be worth more than £12bn by 2006. Even with events such as September 11 terrorist attacks, consumers are keen to start travelling again. Dermot Halpin of Expedia states, ‘People want to travel. September 11 was a tragedy, but people bounce back. Individual travel is becoming more and more popular. People don’t want to be told what to do. We allow them to do what they want.’
With such great competition in the travel market, online travel providers need to distinguish themselves from the others. From consumer surveys, customers perceive the service of the airlines’ websites as significantly better than that of travel agencies (Romita, 2001). This is where travel agencies need to focus on to draw consumers to their site. From the questionnaire results we can see that consumers are drawn to sites on cost and reputation. An image of providing excellent customer service will attract visitors to that site and keep them loyal for future bookings. High street travel agents are able to do this much better due to their face to face interaction with customers. Online travel providers need to realign their focus with the ever demanding public and dedicate their sites to providing excellent customer service.
From the literature search it was found out that the extent to which websites follow the architectural principles and are optimized on the evaluation criteria has an impact on the level of user satisfaction and, in turn, on the level of user loyalty. In other words, a website with a high architectural quality may produce a higher level of user satisfaction, which then leads to increased motivation for users to revisit the site. User satisfaction is one of the most frequently used measures of system success because the performance of a system is usually related to users’ satisfaction ratings (DeLone and McLean 1992).
Customers are looking at the future for sites with better offers and technology to provide real time confirmation. They want greater flexibility and more information when booking travel. Online travel has now become a fundamental part of booking travel, whether to search for the best offers or just gather information on some Holiday package. Customers are becoming more demanding as they can now pick and choose who they wish to give their business to. The future looks bright for the online Holiday booking industry. As more people accept changes in technology and become computer literate, a new generation is developing that use the internet for most their day to day needs.
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